Friday, December 18, 1998

Life in the Styx, vol. VI, no. 12 (Old Styx)

Life in the Styx, vol. VI, no. 12

CONTENTS
  1. Mazel Tovs
  2. Random Trifles
    1.  Web Pictures
    2.  A Light in the Distance
    3.  Web-Puzzle
    4.  Professor Sean Wilentz
  3. IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS
  4. Wag the Dog
  5. Three Stooges
  6. Wag the Dog 2
  7. The Players
  8. The Coup
  9. Postscript
  10. 2013 Update

MAZEL TOVS

1. Mazel Tov to [names redacted] on the birth of a son, yesterday, Thursday, December 17.  Some Hanukkah names that haven't been used yet are:
    (a) Mattathias
    (b) Maccabee
    (c) Elephant  (what the Syrian-Greeks used against the Maccabees)
    (d) Elazar (who learned just what it was like to be under a Syrian-Greek elephant)

2-6. [Names redacted]

7. Mazel Tov to [names redacted] on the upshirin of their son, [name redacted].  I for one felt bittersweet at the upshirin for while it was happy to see him reach the halakhicly significant milestone of 3 years old and begin formal education, I was sad to see his hair cut and lose that "Thor" look we loved so much.  One recommendation for others who do the upshirin thang: instead of putting honey on the letters for the boy to lick, have chocolate syrup instead.  Firstly because I think kids like chocolate more, and secondly it also hides the letters so the licking will both be a treat of food and discovery.


2. RANDOM TRIFLES

Before we get down to the serious bidness of war and insurrection I should mention a bunch of trifles.

(2a) WEB PICTURES

I believe that there is a major communication purpose in having a web-page.  And that can be summed up by: baby pictures.  Many of my friends, who have very cute children, have no web-pages of their own to display these babies and thus people are being denied this public good.  I volunteer to post any of ya'll's baby pictures on my webpage until ya'll get your own.  Please make sure the picture isn't too big (~ 30K) -- if so, I'll have to shrink it (and maybe cut off body parts)

(2b) A LIGHT IN THE DISTANCE

First of all, I found out Wednesday just when my next final exam for Yoreh Deah is (two weeks).  The immense amount of shtick in this class -- which, again, is the core class of my rabbinic training -- is both insulting and bewildering.  But, on that Wednesday, we also were told that the next subject we would be studying is "Basar v'halav" - the laws of (not) cooking milk & meat.  At last!  A *real* subject!  Talking with my class members afterwards, we all agreed it was as if a weight was lifted from our shoulders...

(2c) WEB-PUZZLE

For those who like puzzles, try to figure out how this web-site works: It stymied me for a bit (and boy did I feel dumb): [link inoperable]

(2d) PROFESSOR WILENTZ

Princeton Professor Sean Wilentz was called to testify in front of the impeachment tribunal on December 7th.  I didn't hear his testimony but all reports say that he was "arrogant" and any number of negative statements.  I took Prof. Wilentz in Spring semester 1992 for History 280, "Intro To American History."  It was one of the best courses I've ever taken; Prof. Wilentz has a unique way of teaching: we were given solely primary documents to study and all of our discussions and our papers needed to have rock solid evidence from the primary documents.  Our written work were forests of footnotes because Wilentz demanded the highest of standards; he insisted that the academic study of history was  the process of attribution of fact, not conjecture and allegations.  And I believe that once a professor has developed such rigorous intellectual standards, he should be allowed to act arrogant in front of a Congress who will be remembered without fondness in the future annals of history.


3. IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS

First of all, I am sending out as a public resource copies of the articles of impeachment for both President Richard M. Nixon and for President William J. Clinton.  Soon, I'll post them on my page.

Anyway, I am listening to the Impeachment Hearings now (it's local news, as I'm down here in [Maryland] visiting my parents on the one day off I get for the next few months) and *boy* is this great fun!  I'm finding it difficult to concentrate and write, though.  The hearings are actually very informative and important and I feel unfit to talk about the Impeachment arguments (I was prepared to argue everything point by point).  So I may have to wait...


4. WAG THE DOG

OK.  The day that we were supposed to have the debate on impeachment, the president launches long over-due airstrikes against Iraq.  This would be troublesome enough except that he did the exact same thing a few months ago: he launched missiles against two random terrorist targets just 2 days after his disastrous Public Address after he was cross examined by the Independent prosecutor's goon squad.

The wagdogness of the situation is highlighted further by the fact that Clinton has normally been following the flaccid Jimmy Carteresque view of foreign policy (keep up diplomacy against your enemies because all your aggression is directed against your *allies*).  So why suddenly change tune now?

Except that who does wagdogging fool?  Do you know anyone who doesn't know about this ploy?

The current over-use of the term "Wag The Dog" comes from the recent movie (1997) about this very same topic: a president in trouble because of a sex scandal launches a phony war in order to distract the public.   You should see the movie just to know how offensive it is.  It is a perfect example of how Hollywood has scant understanding about how politics works.  And, more importantly, it demonstrates a contempt for the public that so characterizes the current Clinton scandal.

The idea in the movie is that the American public is (a) distracted by war, and (b) has no idea how to figure out that a war is phony.  The proof for this is that De Niro's character (a Lee Atwater-Dick Morris type political mercenary) claims that people were convinced about the Gulf War even though the precision cruise missile images were produced in his Hollywood soundstage.  So they invent a war with Albania and this helps the president avoid disaster.

To create their magic they enlist thousands of people to create this ruse.  And, get this, nobody leaks. Except that the whole scandal started because of a leak from the person the president had his dalliance with.  Hmmm.

Why am I pointing out this discrepancy?  While I hate when people take apart movies based on insignificant details, the very premise of the movie is undermined by that inconsistency -- that if you were undone by a leak you will get one in the future.

But its more than that -- I'm attacking the movie because of its essential misanthropy.  Because it assumes that Americans are that stupid.  We didn't think there was a gulf war because of CNN; we knew there was a Gulf War because 100,000's of Americans were involved in the invasion! 

No, the Hollywood myth has been proven wrong by recent events.  Ever since the Clinton scandal went into frenzy mode back in January, the American People (in capitals, naturally) knew that it was all partisan pong.  They have (rather, We have) stayed the only reliable player in this whole enterprise.


[2013 note: Oh boy, what 15 years shows.  The missile launch was against Al Queda.  Who knew that would matter?  Then of course there's the 'wag the dog' attempt of Bush, which kinda worked, but not for long.  I think what we learn is that dogwagging will work if you are actually attacked]

5. THREE STOOGES

I compare the current situation to when the dowager hires the three stooges to paint her boudoir.  The stooges spend more time whacking each other with ladders than actually doing what they were hired to do.

Our politicians are our representatives in government; they are there not because they are better people, or even better suited for governance; but because *somebody* has to run the government while the rest of us are busy making money and being regular citizens.  Representative government is based on the premise that not only aren't politicians better people, they are, if anything, better trained at being persuasive and being re-elected.

The press are also our representatives.  They are established by the constitution to be the mechanism that the People can monitor our elected representatives.  But, again, since we have to be the doctors, teachers, and rabbis we need others to be our watchdogs.

So these two groups of representatives have been doing a great disservice for our country.  We hired them, respectively, to run the country and keep tabs on how its run.  Instead Congress has turned its attentions to personal vendettas, the Press has decided to entertain (and make money money money) rather than inform and deserve their constitutional privilege.


6. WAG THE DOG 2

But even if Clinton did launch the strikes against Iraq to distract the public from impeachment; then is that any more of a "wag the dog" than what is going on in Congress?  Wag the Dog means a form of indirection and subterfuge, where you orchestrate an action so that you can guarantee something as a "reaction" even though that's what you wanted in the first place.

Except that we *should* have attacked Iraq.  The fact that congress is orchestrating an impeachment just to ouster a person who's POLITICAL philosophies they disagree with, and making grandiose moral claims about it, is a classic case of subterfuge.


7. THE PLAYERS

Can congress really claim the high ground?  Let's take a look at the players:

    (1) ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) :

Who ran the country's opposition from 1994-1998 and who can be held responsible for driving the political rhetoric into the gutter of extremism and uncompromising partisanship.  Gingrich polarized all issues; he resigned because he was so inflexible that he couldn't bear actually doing the job of the American legislature which is to compromise and haggle among the myriad different interests.  Instead, Gingrich led a revolution of aggressive adolescents who weren't interested in the posterity, they wanted change immediately and with extreme prejudice.
    So Gingrich, who (according to Al Franken's book) has admitted to having many oral-sex encounters with employees, was brought up on ethics charges by the House for misappropriating government funds to fund a college course which he turned into a book for which he received a few million dollars from a private company. He later lied to the Ethics Committee.  He was reprimanded for his behavior and issued a (gasp) fine.

    (2) acting-Speaker Bob Livingston (R-La.):

In the words of the AP Wire story (12-17-98, 10:57 pm, "Rep. Livingston Admits Affairs"):
Incoming House speaker Bob Livingston acknowledged Thursday night he had been unfaithful to his wife, telling stunned fellow Republicans he had "on occasion strayed from my marriage. ....
The sensational disclosure came on the eve of the House's impeachment debate involving the sexual conduct of President Clinton. Livingston sought in a statement to draw a distinction from Clinton's conduct, saying "These indiscretions were not with employees on my staff, and I have never been asked to testify under oath about them.''
Hey Bob!  Give us a chance!

    (3) Chair of the Impeachment Committee, Representative Henry Hyde (R-Il.):

OK, so we already know about his long standing affair with a married mother of four.  And his dismissal of it.  But we also find out that (according to the 12-28-98 New Republic, "Mister Hyde" by Ryan Lizza, pp. 14-17):
  1. During the Iran-Contra scandal Hyde was the chief Republican defender of "the Reagan administration, denying it broke any laws by selling weapons to Iran to fund the Nicaraguan contras. .... As the Los Angeles Times reported on December 4, Hyde praised Oliver North and John Poindexter as heroes, bashed those who 'sermonized about how terrible lying is' and explained that 'it just seems to me too simplistic' to condemn all lying.  Hyde, the man who keeps insisting today that 'lying must have consequences' fought tirelessly for a presidential pardon of both men." (p.16)
  2. "... in 1983, when Congress considered censuring Illinois Republican Daniel Crane because he'd had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old congressional page, Hyde took to the house floor and pleaded with his colleagues for even lesser punishment -- a reprimand." (p. 16)
  3. "Hyde gained the distinction of becoming the only sitting member of Congress to be sued for gross negligence by the Resolution Trust Corporation, the federal agency set up to clean up the S&L mess."

8. THE COUP

So does  this leaves us is with a picture of moral paragons going after the sinner?  No, its how the aggression minded congressional republicans have determined they can upset the balance of powers in their favor.  It's like a European parliamentary no-confidence vote mixed with a good ol' South American junta.  Except that we have evangelical Protestants leading the crusade.   I've heard them say that they won't censure him "because that's just what he wants!"  No, what he wants is nothing.  But since they can't go for crucifixion ("because that's what he wants") so impeachment is the viable option!

But I am glad that it's finally out of the hands of the special prosecutor and into the hands of the Congress. Because that *is* finally the rule of law.  Instead of having Clinton pilloried in the press and calumnied by Starr, he's being tried by the method established by the founding fathers.  And that's the most secure forum we have for this type of non-military revolution.  It's very exciting to watch.

Styx :]

9. POSTSCRIPT:

Here are some notes I was typing while listening to the debates.  I thought it was worth broadcasting:

  1. Boy is it funny to hear Democrats declaring their support for the attack on Iraq; I wonder how many of them supported the Gulf War?
  2. It's very clear that the Republicans are trying to get even with their democratic colleagues, and the history books, for the impeaching of Nixon.  Thank Gd I have more faith in History than these fickle and fragile men.
  3. And I say "men" because of the disproportionate gender imbalance of the GOP is very clear in this debate; all female voices that I hear are Democrats (except for Mary Bono, who wouldn't be in House if her drug-addled husband hadn't run into a tree while skiing).  The female voices, and the African-American voices, are all Democrats.
  4. The Republicans would be convincing if it weren't for the fact that they haven't been looking at the evidence.  I.e. they are claiming that the president has committed crimes that he, from the evidence, hasn't committed; and because they will it to be, they are accepting  the allegations as true.  But, in a way, that's what congress is supposed to do.
  5. Unfortunately I am a sucker for rule of law.  I do believe the president should be tried by congress.  Why? Because he was already tried by the Press and my the rogue special prosecutor.  Those methods of judgment were wholly wrong; they were against his 6th Amendment rights of fair trial.  The Special Prosecutor, in a wrongful manner, has entrapped the president, but, like the mice in my Cheerioes, he was caught by the trap.
  6. Who are they trying to convince?  I guess people like me because they sure ain't convincing each other.
  7. This is yet again Parliament versus Democracy.
  8. Some GOP Rep. (from a Southern state! What a surprise!) is saying that he can "no longer trust Clinton" When did he start?
  9. "Sexual harassment isn't about sex"  How dare they use sex-harassment as their issue?
  10. If we held this standard for all presidents?  If we maintained this standard for Newt Gingrich he'd have been impeached.
  11. Blatant abuse of the GOP to not allow even a vote on censure
  12. The main GOP arguments: (a) rule of law, (b) president lies a whole bunch, (c) president's lying was in a sexual harassment case and that was against a private citizen, therefore he committed a bad thing, (d) respect for the presidency, (e) no one is above the law
  13. Has Clinton degraded the presidency more than they have?  Clinton is a tawdry man.  I recall that when the Starr report was sent out, I heard people say "How can the president drag us through this!?" except that, duh, that Congress is the body that broadcast what should have been private grand jury testimony to the public (wasn't that an abuse of the president's rights? Eh, who cares)
  14. Why isn't censure strong enough? Oh, because they *want* to impeach him.  Otherwise, you should at least allow a vote on it.  Well, that means that this is unfair!  Oh.  It is.
  15. I wasn't cognizant around the time of Watergate, perhaps it was as torn with vendetta (because, lord knows, democrats hated Nixon more than the GOP hate Clinton).  But the whole process was treated differently.
  16. "Censure doesn't affect the behavior of the president" sez GOP.
  17. "Impeachment is to protect the country; not to punish the president" sez Democrat
2013 Postscript
This wasn't in the original sent Styx, but was in my notes. I kind of re-wrote it above:
CLINTON OPENS UP A CAN O'WHOOP @$$

So, were the current air-strikes done to distract the country from the Impeachemnt trial? Lord, yes. Does that mean we shouldn't have done it?  Of course not. I for one am hoping the impeachement trial drags for months so Clinton will mop the floor with Iraqi ass.

The cynical nature of the Republicans is being mached by the cynical wag the dog.

Sunday, October 11, 1998

Life in the Styx, vol. VI, no. 05 (FAQ) (Old Styx)

Yo Styx,

CONTENTS
  1. Holiday
  2. More Frequently Asked Questions
  3. Answers
HOLIDAY

I am still in [Maryland], where I have been for the past week.  I have had to cancel plans to make a secret raid on Boston for Simchas Torah due to infirmity and ennui.  I should be returning to New York from Maryland on Wednesday.

MORE FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

So far the response has been positive to the first F.A.Q. (which is available in updated form on my webpage), but I have not really received more questions.  So I felt I should add a few more.
  1. What do you think of the current situation with the impeachment trial against Clinton?
  2. Don't you think that Clinton is a sinner?
  3. Isn't Monicalewinskykennethstarrlindatrippbillclintongate just like Watergate?
  4. Who's the biggest leprous goat in the current scandal? Linda Tripp, right?
  5. Why do bad things happen to good people?
  6. What is the difference between Peshat & Derash?
  7. What do you think of the recent appointment of Ariel Sharon as foreign minister of Israel?
  8. Who do you predict for winning the Nobel Peace Prize?
  9. Who do you predict for the World Series?
  10. Who was the NL leader in strikeouts in 1967?
  11. Please explain the infield fly rule
  12.  Do you own a book by Len Charney called "How to build a Yurt?" If so, why?
ANSWERS

1.  WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE CURRENT SITUATION WITH THE IMPEACHMENT TRIAL AGAINST CLINTON?

I stopped being agitated about this when I concluded that it's all just a metaphor.  I.e., the president and his copious enemies have been fighting since 1991, and the current scandal is just an embodiment of that battle.  The accused crimes are meaningless -- they'd hang Clinton for whatever act they could create or find -- the details are purposefully spurious, in order to obfuscate the real plan.

2.  DON'T YOU THINK THAT CLINTON IS A SINNER?


Yes, he is a sinner [project Phil Hartman's imitation of a crying Jimmy Swaggart] and that has nothing to do with politics or power.  Anyone who thinks so is either being na├»ve or is fooling themselves about their true intentions.  Clinton is a mirror - if you started out agreeing with Clinton then his sex-cookie with Monica is negligible; if you started out hating Clinton, then his brazen lying under oath and subsequent cover-up is a perfect example of what you hated about him from the beginning.  As I said, the current situation is a metaphor.

Anyway, the Presidents main crime is being a president of the minority part in Congress.  The more vicious and ideological Congress is, the more viciously they bring about impeachment proceedings.  Case in point is the trial against Andrew Johnson which is not remembered for its crime but for the partisan fury of the Republican congress against a Democratic president.

3.  ISN'T MONICALEWINSKYKENNETHSTARRLINDATRIPPBILLCLINTONGATE JUST LIKE WATERGATE?

No.  the only similarity is that in both cases the Republican party is using illicit means to subvert democracy, in 1972 by (successfully) stealing an election and in 1998 by reversing the twice-practiced will of the people.

4. WHO'S THE BIGGEST LEPROUS GOAT IN THE CURRENT SCANDAL? LINDA TRIPP, RIGHT?

No.  She's pretty bad, because she falsely created a friendship and exploited a girl for her own neuroses-driven jihad.  But I think the worst is currently Henry Hyde.  That sanctimonious hypocrite has the gall to belittle the enormity of his sins -- the fact that he had a five year affair with a married mother of three while he had 4 kids of his own.  He broke up his paramour's marriage and then claims, now, that it was a youthful indiscretion and that the statute of limitations has expired on that crime.  The total dismissal of his own despicable behavior, while he stands arrogantly enshrouded on his grand tribunal, has been so far the most despicable act.

5. WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE?

Because Gd loves our prayers so much that He increases our suffering in order to increase our prayers.  Note, there are actually some people who believe that.  Recently I have discovered that most irrational, illogical & contradictory beliefs in Judaism can be traced to Kabbalah (and I'm sure that the above theodicy is no exception).  Kabbalah appears to be unburdened by what we moderns call 'consistency' and 'empiricism.'  The reason why one needs to be 40 to start learning Kabbalah is because it takes that long to know all of the symbols and meanings within its closed system -- if you only know a little bit o'kabbalah it can be dangerous because it makes no sense outside of itself.  For example, what color is Binah?  Why, Blue, of course.

People make the mistake of applying empirical proof and logical rigor to things created without those restrictions, like Midrash.  When people ask me what's the difference between peshat and derash, I answer, actually I should make this the next question...

6. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PESHAT & DERASH?

Most people think that Peshat means "the simple meaning."  I guess that makes "derash", the complex meaning.  But this is incorrect.  First of all, the accepted meaning of those two terms is by no means regular or regulated; different commentaries have different definitions of the two terms (just see Rashi vs. the Rashbam).  The field of literary criticism has shattered into critical street gangs (the Intentionalists, the Contextualists, the Latin Kings, the Bloods, the Expressivists, the Crips, and the Chicago School) all based on the difficulty of the exegetical enterprise.

Moreover, most people who read the Torah have no critical literary abilities.  Anyone who ran screaming from literature/English class should be immediately suspect when they try to explain Tanakh and meta-critical concepts like peshat/derash.

More moreover, anyone who has braved entering said literature class knows that the place is filled with derivative sluggards and sophistic charlatans who know just as little about text as the aforementioned screaming-refugees, but because of some innate larceny, they feel they can get away with abusing text.  It's one of the tragedies of academia that in order to indulge the minority of scholars who need a free-lunch in order to maximize their creative output, a system is created that allows parasitic abuse by loads of free-riders.

Anyway, when pushed to give an answer to the difference between the two interpretive techniques, I'd say that Derash is a possible understanding of the text and Peshat is necessary.  Sometimes the text is so ambiguous or mysterious that all one can do is apply the closest possible interpretation with the recognition that it may not be a necessary interpretation.  To be necessary, an interpretation needs to be provable from the words and consistent with the text as a whole.  Midrash is very often inconsistent with the greater text, subtext, context and supertext.

Since we have traditional understandings of certain events or people in the bible (e.g. the Matriarch Rachel was a good person) that we need to add things not directly found in the text.  That's fine, because that's necessary.

Another way to explain the difference is that Peshat is exegesis and Derash is isogesis.  "Exegesis" is the extraction of meaning from the words and "isogesis" is injection of meaning into the words.  Most homiletical sermons do not attempt to explain the text, they intend to transmit a teaching that uses the text as support.

To tie in with the Kabbalah issue - Midrashim are, by my definition, not consistent with the text, nor logic & experience.  They aren't meant to be.  When people try to apply logical rigor to these fundamentally illogical concepts they enter into Artscroll Thinking (note: the best example of Artscroll thinking is found in "Monty Python's Holy Grail" with the casuistic reasoning behind the identification of a witch.).  Possibly the common denominator is that both forms of thought are Medieval.

So, to come full circle, the above theodicy ("Gd loves our prayers so much that He increases our suffering in order to increase our prayers") is incomplete.  It should conclude, "and prayers are so important because they are blue."


7.  WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE RECENT APPOINTMENT OF ARIEL SHARON AS FOREIGN MINISTER OF ISRAEL?

Ride 'em cowboy!

8. WHO DO YOU PREDICT FOR WINNING THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE?

All the dudes for Northern Ireland (which may include Clinton!)

9. WHO DO YOU PREDICT FOR THE WORLD SERIES

Yankees 4-Padres 1

10. WHO WAS THE NL LEADER IN STRIKEOUTS IN 1967?

Who cares?  Ya see, you answer one baseball question and suddenly Sports fanatics unload on you all the built-up trivia nonsense.

11.  PLEASE EXPLAIN THE INFIELD FLY RULE

Augh!  Just forget it, dude!

12. DO YOU OWN A BOOK BY LEN CHARNEY CALLED "HOW TO BUILD A YURT?" IF SO, WHY?

Yes.  Wouldn't you?

Have a great Simchas Torah!
Styx :]

[Uploaded Oct 18 2013]

Friday, October 02, 1998

Life in the Styx, vol. VI, no. 04 [FAQ] (Old Styx)

Yo Styx,

CONTENTS
  1. Webpage Upgrades 
  2. Kidney Inspection 
  3. F.A.Q. Questions  
  4. Some Answers for the F.A.Q.

WEBPAGE UPGRADES

Even though I can't do very much in my invalid state (every year I am given the divine gift of a new allergic reaction; the bright side is that at least I know my immune system is working), I have been able to futz around with the webpage.

I have implemented many changes, including the start of an archive of the Life in the Styx and the John McPhee shrine. On the Styx page I've put up the most recent styxes (vol. VI, no. 01-03) as well as the Styxlists of each (i.e. so if you haven't seen your nickname for a while, and miss it, check out the page).

KIDNEY INSPECTION

As I was inspecting all of my past year's wrong-doing (which was not pretty) alternating between sins I have committed to Gd (to quote Steve Martin "ew! a million six!") and those I've committed against my fellow, I realized that I needed to make some repairs when it comes to the Styx.

Specifically, I need to create an F.A.Q. (frequently asked questions) in order to answer the pesky questions about the idiosyncrasies of my policies. I started a long time ago to put a list of questions together but I never could get the energy to answer them. But, for your information, here are the questions that I have compiled. If you have any more, please let me know soon so I can answer them.

THE "FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS" QUESTIONS

  1. Why is it called the "Styx"? 
  2. Are you some kind of sick pig? 
  3. OK, I get the name, but what *IS* this thing? How did this whole sick thing get started?
  4. When do you find the time to write this? (a.k.a. Aren't you going to be a rabbi, why aren't you learning or something?) 
  5. What's with the nicknames? How do you think 'em up? 
  6. Can I forward the Styx to a bunch of yahoos who have never met you before and therefore won't get any of your jokes and write you irate letters? 
  7. I find that the personality that comes through the Styx repellent, is that the real you? And if it is, I have a great set-up for you. 
  8. Are you Netanyahu's secret love child? 
  9. Are you Clinton's secret love child? 
  10. Are you *anyone's* secret love child? 
  11. Are you some kind of arrogant pig who thinks you know more than everyone?! 
  12. Are you joking? 
  13. I want to sign up my bestest friend to the Styx/ what is your subscription policy? 
  14. Whoa, dude, I was really offended when you said -- how can I rest my troubled soul? 
  15. Why do you give Mazel Tovs to people I don't know? Should I feel like a sequestered boob for not knowing the person you just Mazel Tov'd? 
  16. You didn't give a Mazel Tov on my engagement/ marriage/ child's birth etc. 
  17. Why is the Styx so exclusive? Are you elitist scum? My friend wants to get on the Styx but you won't let him/her 
  18. Do you have anything to do with the rock group "Styx" 
  19. I sent an email to you months ago and you still haven't responded, are you busy or just a jerk? 
  20. Who are your literary influences? 
  21. I heard you can tell if someone's lying just by staring at them with your piercing blue eyes, is that true? 
  22. Do you want everyone in the world on the Styx? 
  23. Why do you include the whole list of names sometimes and not others? 
  24. What's with you and Dave Barry? 
  25. Hey, Jane, how do I stop this crazy thing?
SOME ANSWERS

1. WHY IS IT CALLED THE "STYX"?

The "Styx," the affectionate and cute nickname for "The Life in the Styx," is named after the river of hell mentioned in pagan Greek literature. I am not soft on pagans. They had good literature though. Note, there were other rivers of hell mentioned, like Lethe (river of forgetfulness), Acheron (river of woe), Cocytus (river of wailing), and Phlegethon (river of fire), but Styx has the advantages of also being a pun.

Originally, when I started this whole enterprise in Israel, the newsletter was called "The State of the State" (since it reported on the status of the State of Israel during its year of crisis, 1995-6). When I left Israel, I wanted to keep the newsletter going, but naturally couldn't continue using the nickname of the Holy Land (I am frum ya know). The "styx" of the title refers to both the "sticks" -- America is "hutz-l'aretz" and as such anything outside of Israel is isolated and diasporated. The "styx" of "hutz-l'aretz" (literally: 'outside the land') also refers to the unholy nature of anything outside of Israel.

But even leaving behind America vs. Israel, the "Styx" also refers to the purgatorial existence in this world. Since Tradition states that there are at least two worlds, Olam Hazeh (this world) and Olam Habah (the world to come), this world is at least the middle of the three worlds (Heaven, Hell, Us) or maybe even the worst of all. In any case, it's at least good enough to be the river of hell.

2. ARE YOU SOME KIND OF SICK PIG?

I prefer shwarma. But to answer the question which comes on the heels of the previous answer, I often employ dark and stygian imagery in what I write and create; it's the inevitable result of any indulgence in existential philosophy. Get used to it.

3. OK, I GET THE NAME, BUT WHAT *IS* THIS THING? HOW DID THIS WHOLE SICK THING GET STARTED?

The best answer for that question is the "FINAL STATE [of the State]: Part 1 - History" published Thursday, May 30, 1996 (sent off as I was about to evacuate from Har Etzion like the last chopper out of 'Nam). I have referenced it on the Styx homepage

But, in a nutshell: I started a newsletter when I was in Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel because it was more time efficient to send group messages to my friends & relatives instead of writing each individually. As time grew more plentiful, the situation in Israel more intense and interesting, and as the writing bug consumed more and more of my soul, I expanded the nature of the Styx to be an instrument of reportage.

Since I am a pundit at heart, and would love to be one as a future profession, I have continued writing the Styx as a combination of the two initial purposes: (1) telling my friends what is going on in my life, and (2) being a forum to express my analysis of current events and important issues.

If I want to live off my writing I need to constantly improve and practice; the Styx provides a venue to keep writing, even when all of my other avenues for expression are choked.

4. WHEN DO YOU FIND THE TIME TO WRITE THIS? (a.k.a.: AREN'T YOU GOING TO BE A RABBI, WHY AREN'T YOU LEARNING OR SOMETHING?)

I make time. And, yes, I am planning to be a rabbi. And, yes, I usually am learning Torah and becoming a better Jew and better rabbi. But this ain't no sipping rabbi. I wouldn't have gone through 4 years, $100,000, and 50,000 miles of Princeton education to become a stam pulpit rabbi. I'd have gone to Yeshiva University, bought a 1979 Corvette with the extra money, and would probably have had better training for the pulpit (I'm not going to give a definitive answer to *that* question). Given that scenario I also would have made aliyah, put rock-screens on my 'vette, and then sauntered around the Territories wearing aviator sunglasses and packing a chrome .357 magnum in a hip holster.

There's more to that fantasy, but that's enough for now.

In any case, writing features heavily in my future. I need to keep in practice and improve my skills. I hope to rise up into even better forums than email, but while it's probably the best I can do while I spend most of my time learning Talmud & Codes.

5. WHAT'S WITH THE NICKNAMES?

When I started writing the Styx (in the State of the State days) I mainly used the UNIX based email program "pine" which had the nifty feature of providing nicknames. (I think I stole the idea from [name redacted]). Even though I now use a pop-mail program (Eudora), which doesn't have the same nifty features when it comes to sending grouplists, I have retained the nickname policy.

For people obsessed with semiotics and language (for more information, see my thesis; I am debating whether I should post that bad boy on the web; I fear what would happen if it breaks its chains and runs amok, preying on the weaker parts of the webspace, hell! AOL would be decimated in minutes; hmmm, maybe I should). Ahem, for a person obsessed with semiotics and language, the nicknames became one more method to exercise creativity and inflict humor.

A person's nickname has become a sign that they are really "on" the Styxlist although that gives the erroneous notion of a 'membership.' It's all in good fun. If a person doesn't like their nickname, all they need to do is ask for it to be changed. I will often change nicknames at will, based on my dictatorial whim.

5b. HOW DO YOU THINK 'EM UP?

It's not easy to think up a nickname. I'll usually try to get something that pegs a person's interests or general reputation. When I get stuck, I'll make fun of a person's name (preferably in a way that reflects on their nature). Sometimes a name will just hit me from the primordial muck of my mind. And sometimes I'll just choose something from Greek/Latin mythology (like "styx" eh?)

6. CAN I FORWARD THE STYX TO A BUNCH OF YAHOOS WHO HAVE NEVER MET YOU BEFORE AND THEREFORE WON'T GET ANY OF YOUR JOKES AND WRITE YOU IRATE LETTERS?

No. This has happened to me a number of times and while I find all of the irate letters funny it can be a bit scary to receive a letter from someone I don't know who is offended by statements that I made that he/she doesn't understand because they weren't supposed to read it in the first place.

Anyway, the thought that someone would respond to a message forwarded to them from someone else strikes me as foolish, petty, and kinda stupid. It's like writing a letter to a cartoon character ("Dear Garfield, I think you should see a psychiatrist").

My policy when it comes to forwarding the Styx is similar to my view about the PLO -- i.e. while I know it exists, I do not encourage its activity.

I ask all of you to exercise caution when forwarding. The Styx is written in a certain context and random third-party yahoos won't get the context and have absolutely no sympathy towards the grandstanding braggadocio that marks my rhetoric. The main reason why you receive the Styx is because I know you personally and in some way you care to hear about my life and my opinions.

7. I FIND THAT THE PERSONALITY THAT COMES THROUGH THE STYX REPELLENT, IS THAT THE REAL YOU?

For all intents and purposes, yes; the personality that comes through is mine. Although I usually have good music on in the background (I'm currently listing to Big Joe Turner's "Blues in the Night")

7b. AND IF IT IS, I HAVE A GREAT SET-UP FOR YOU.

A corollary to the "forward" policy I set forth in Answer #6 is about set-ups. Meaning that if you are on the Styxlist, and you think you have some wonderful person who you want me to meet for light consumer spending and possible matrimony, then first show the young lassie a copy of the Styx.

I'd wager that most of the blind set-ups I receive would've stridently refused a shiddukh with me had they read the Styx beforehand. This is a good thing. Any blind-date rendered unnecessary is a boon to all humankind.

8. ARE YOU NETANYAHU'S SECRET LOVE CHILD?

No. I would have voted for him in 1996 and would pluperfectly again in 2000. For a restatement of my views on Israel, see Deep Styx, vol. 01, no. 06 "Israel Issues" (Wed, 13 May 1998) .

9. ARE YOU CLINTON'S SECRET LOVE CHILD?

Heck no. I voted for him in 1992 and 1996 and I stand by him in the current crisis (mainly because of the valid moral position of sticking with the bad over the worse). I'm not sure if Clinton *has* any love children.

10. ARE YOU *ANYONE'S* SECRET LOVE CHILD?

Not secret anyway.

11. ARE YOU SOME KIND OF ARROGANT PIG WHO THINKS YOU KNOW MORE THAN EVERYONE?!

No. I prefer shwarma. Anyway, I definitely don't think I know more than everyone. Knowledge is based partially on precision memory and my hard-drive has the unfortunate tendency to be slow on the uptake and low-res on the pixel count. I *do* think that I have a unique ability to observe, to analyze, and to reproduce these analyses into funny words. And that's the product you receive -- fresh from my brain into your grocer's freezer.

12. ARE YOU JOKING?

Often.

A word to the wise: There are usually internal ways to determine if I'm joking. A word to the unwary: If you think I may be joking, I probably am. A word to the clueless: I am always joking.

13. I WANT TO SIGN UP MY BESTEST FRIEND TO THE STYX/ WHAT IS YOUR SUBSCRIPTION POLICY?

The infamous subscription policy! This is one of the more important FAQs (I'd put it near the front but the order of the questions was determined 18 months ago when I wrote them up and even though I can't remember why they are in this order, I sense some kind of internal narrative pattern that demonstrates I must have had something in mind...)

The policy is this: there is only one way to get on the Styx, and that is to directly ask me. I do not sign anyone up via third parties. No one.

If you asked to be signed up but then didn't receive one (a tough thing to figure out, based on the metaphysics of absence, but it happens periodically) then it usually means that your subscription got lost in the gears. This is not, repeat, not a deliberate snub. It is a mistake. Just ask me again (best over email using the address that you prefer).

Getting off the Styx is even easier. Just ask. You'll be unsubscribed immediately. Without extreme prejudice too.

I reserve complete and total right to strike anyone from the Styxlist without warning and without cause. I also want the right to brand people with red hot pokers, but that was denied in appellate court.

14. WHOA, DUDE, I WAS REALLY OFFENDED WHEN YOU SAID -- HOW CAN I REST MY TROUBLED SOUL?

Let me know. I will try to quell your querulousness. Think before you write, often you will realize what troubles you isn't me but is some larger problem due to radon poisoning or a bad Snapple. Or mice.

15. WHY DO YOU GIVE MAZEL TOVS TO PEOPLE I DON'T KNOW?

I have lived in way too many places for just 26 years. Every place I go, I accumulate more friends. Email is a great way to keep in touch with people who are no longer in your immediate verbal jawing circle. Many of people from my past are on the list. If you don't know the person, that means you are from a different circle of [Styx].

15b. SHOULD I FEEL LIKE A SEQUESTERED BOOB FOR NOT KNOWING THE PERSON YOU JUST MAZEL TOV'D?

Nope. Feel happy.

16. YOU DIDN'T GIVE A MAZEL TOV ON MY ENGAGEMENT/ MARRIAGE/ CHILD'S BIRTH ETC.

That's probably because I didn't know about it. Let me know!! This goes for all of you out there -- if you know of some simcha that I haven't mentioned yet that you think I should **TELL ME** Despite the veneer of omniscience, I am not as well informed as I'd like to be.

17. WHY IS THE STYX SO EXCLUSIVE? ARE YOU ELITIST SCUM? MY FRIEND WANTS TO GET ON THE STYX BUT YOU WON'T LET HIM/HER

Much of this has been answered beforehand. But the exclusivity of the Styx is deliberate and designed for minimum headache of both the producer and consumer.

I have the same type of subscription rules as the O-U. The OU doesn't solicit companies to become kosher or be under the OU hashgaha. That's because a company that thinks they are there under the OU's request will not be willing to follow all the rules that the OU puts on them. The OU prefers to be able to dictate the terms of the relationship, and that only comes when the food company makes the request.

The Styx is both large in size and outrageous in content. People normally don't like receiving huge emails and they especially don't like large emails filled with content that enrages them.

To avoid pissing people off, I require subscribers to be there not as my guests, definitely not from my invitation. Rather I prefer if people were akin to audience members in a lecture hall where they could enter and leave as they please.

Any reader that thinks they are on the list because of my request and not because they requested, then let me know and I'll gladly unsubscribe you. I am a fanatic about following the rules of etiquette and it would bother me very much that someone is on the Styx against their will because nobody wants to receive rudeness, and it is the height of email rude to send huge messages to a unsolicited grouplist.

18. DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE ROCK GROUP "STYX"

Nope. But their song "Renegade" is the official song of the "Life in the Styx" [link added in 2013]

19. I SENT AN EMAIL TO YOU MONTHS AGO AND YOU STILL HAVEN'T RESPONDED, ARE YOU BUSY OR JUST A JERK?

Busy. I'm sorry; as you can imagine, I don't have so much time in the day left after my rabbinical and Styxical duties are done.

20. WHO ARE YOUR LITERARY INFLUENCES?

Uh, that's a long answer. The only ones I can think of quickly are: Woody Allen, Mark Twain, Robert Howard, Dave Barry, Clifford Geertz, John McPhee, Hunter Thompson (in order of chronological influence). Actually, anyone whom I've read recently is bound to affect my mind. I'm an unwitting and involuntary mimic of writing tone and style.

21. I HEARD YOU CAN TELL IF SOMEONE'S LYING JUST BY STARING AT THEM WITH YOUR PIERCING BLUE EYES, IS THAT TRUE?

Nope. My eyes are hazel.

22. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE IN THE WORLD ON THE STYX?

Heck no. Not as the Styx is currently configured. Soon enough I will decide to go public, and *then* I will seek total global saturation. As for now, the current Styxlist (about 125 people) is a fine number. I don't mind other people I know signing up, but, again, only if they ask me themselves (and demonstrate that they really do want to receive it and know what kinda thang they are getting into).

23. WHY DO YOU INCLUDE THE WHOLE LIST OF NAMES SOMETIMES AND NOT OTHERS?

I used to send the whole list out with every Styx but then the Styxlist got way too big (the list was sometimes 50% of the document!) and I slapped the list into the BCC: I'll only send the whole list out on special occasions. If you want to check your nickname out, then check out the web-page. (I'm working out the LCC capabilities, but that is causing great headaches).

24. WHAT'S WITH YOU AND DAVE BARRY?

I do not know him, although I would like to. I find Dave very funny and astute. I send out the most recent Dave Barry to a separate list of people (with a much more lax subscription policy than employed for the Styx, but it still requires people to ask me for it). When it looks like I'll be unable to finish a bona fide Styx on the average Friday, I'll send off the Dave. Also, if Dave's particularly awesome that week, I'll send it out as well. I keep the copyright notice on his material, so I think I am still following the legal strictures. (Which reminds me, **keep my copyright notice on my work as well**)

25. HEY, JANE, HOW DO I STOP THIS CRAZY THING?

If you want to unsubscribe, don't be afraid. Just ask. I'm surprisingly gentle.

'Shabbas everyone, and chag sameach! 

Styx :]

[Posted Oct 17, 2013]

Friday, May 15, 1998

Life in the Styx vol. 4, no. 40 (Old Styx)

Life in the Styx vol. 4, no. 40; May 15, 1998 (Excerpts):

FRANK SINATRA

Frank Sinatra, an American icon whose virtuoso talent and notorious public image made him a defining and dominant celebrity for more than five decades, died last night at age 82.

He was "The Chairman of the Board," "Old Blue Eyes," "Frankie," he did things His Way. There, I got the damned cliches out of the way quickly. His talent was too good to let the hacks and jackals of the press apply their pedestrian rot to his legacy.

I urge those of you who know of Sinatra as the opening song of "Married With Children" actually hear some of his music. Those who only know of his attitude from "My Way" to hear the majority of his work -- to know that popular music at one point had lyrics that carried a sober, wise pathos.

And the man could sing! He had a powerful limousine voice that never seemed to end -- he could probably hold a note longer and stronger than almost any singer who thought to be his rival.

And yes, he was the Chairman. His hep-cat, master of the cool years appeal to many across the generations. I am one of those who believe that "My Way" was written purely with me in mind.

While "My Way" does read as a perfect epitaph (first line: And now, the end is near;/ And so I face the final curtain") I prefer another song, possibly my private favorite, that combines his ballistic voice with the maturity and boldness that should be his legacy: "That's Life" [In the original Styx, I sent out the full lyrics]

THE LAST SEINFELD

I find it appropriate that just when the hype from the end of Seinfeld reached the level of farce, when people who classify "The Wedding Singer" as a nostalgia movie are both pining and cynically criticizing their emotions over a TV show that purports to be a classic, fate helps put things in perspective with the death of Sinatra. While Seinfeld may have been the Upper West Side, Frankie was New York.

And I can't help but think that Seinfeld would be grateful. It wasn't he who blew up the hype; it was both NBC who is looking down the barrel of a long painful reconstruction after losing both America's #1 show and pro-football.

It was also the collection of streetwalkers known as the American Press Corps who blew this out of proportion. Thursday morning, the day of the last show, one of the "top stories" on the Reuters wire was a very special scoop indeed. It seems that one of their investigative crack reporters picked up a leak as to the exact plot of the finale! So I read about the car-jacking and the trial 12 hours before it was shown -- serves me right for be a news-junkie, right?

Why was that story news? Why was it a "scoop"? We press-critics each have our high-water mark as to when we declare that the press has gone 'too far' -- some people think it's O.J., some waited until Monicalewinskygate. But in some ways I think this is a far worse sign. It shows that there is no longer any break between entertainment and news. It shows that the only ethics left to the reporters are: (1) a need to "scoop" and (2) a need to destroy privacy.

The only reason why the temptation to know the plot existed was because NBC tried to keep it a secret; and it seems like something so petty and trivial as that was enough to waste a "top story" (not like anything else was happening: nuclear crisis in India-Pakistan, hundreds of people killed in Indonesian riots; Arafat pushing for armed struggle in Israel etc.) See below for more journalistic-wickedness.

SEINFELD: THE PHENOMENON


Everyone should be sick unto death of reading analysis articles about Why Seinfeld Is So Popular. Then there are the counter articles -- probably by the same misanthropic cranks who felt a need to attack Titanic -- who tried to tear down the belief that there's something to miss with the passing of Seinfeld.

I read a column in Time Magazine, the Marvel Comics of news, that tried ever-so-vainly to convince the reader that Seinfeld was a used-diaper compared to the laudable librettos of "The Andy Griffith Show."

Thank the TV-gods for providing us with Nick at Nite so we can finally match up the cinematic gadlus of the bygone era with ours. Folks, I don't want to surprise you, but early TV sucked. If I had only "Andy Griffith" to watch I'd drink Drano.

But here's a surprise: comedy is a cultural bench-mark. Material is only found to be funny by the intended audience. And it is ooo-kaaay to have different tastes within the genre. But I guess reporters are just two-speed bicycles that can only trash or hype.

SEINFELD'S APPEAL

Of course, I do need to give my two-cents on why Seinfeld was so popular. That is the most interesting question anyway. Especially since the show had a strong amorality that was part of its unavoidable message (something that came to haunt them in the distinctly unfunny finale) and why I couldn't be a regular viewer.

The trick here is to realize that people weren't watching it for the amorality, even though it became an unintended side-effect. This is how the marketplace works: you buy a product because it's the best available, not the best there is; there may be aspects you don't like about your chosen purchase, but they aren't significant enough to dissuade your acquisition.

However, the sub-standards still exist and will affect you. Seinfeld did manage, in my analysis, to debase the discourse on television towards a more tawdry and even raunchy level. Because of the show's power and appeal, they were able to broadcast an episode about masturbation -- a plot-line that I believe is the quintessence of the show -- which would not have been possible had Seinfeld not been so popular. And once you break that barrier of propriety, it's very difficult to go back.

This psycho-social phenomenon can be summed up with this aphorism: there aren't always moral reasons but there are moral consequences. The amorality wasn't why The People watched, but it did affect The People afterwards.

So why did they watch? Very simple: the principle of the show wasn't that it was "about nothing" (a phrase repeated so often that I had a standing threat to pole-axe the next person who said it within ear-shot). The other phrase Seinfeld had for it was: "no hugging, no learning."

All one has to do is compare Seinfeld to the other two comedies that went belly-up this week: "Ellen" and "Murphy Brown." Ellen became a one-trick pinto. It was gay gay gay and I'm not sure if *any* one note show could survive, let alone one with such a moralizing tincture. Murphy Brown was moribund for years and it needed to jolt itself alive with dramatic plot grafts (a baby! a cancer!)

Seinfeld was one place you could go where it was 100% jokes. Once you were over the hurdle of accepting the basic characters & premise, you were guaranteed non-stop payback. And that, very simply, is why it was so popular.

ISRAEL

One message about Israel. This is probably the only instance that I remember where the New York Times, good ol' German Serge Schmemann, was more anti-Israel than even the Reuters wire. Reuters placed the Israeli backlash to the current Palestinian riots by saying, straight out, that the Israelis only fired into the mob when (a) they were fired on first! or (b) when they were about to be over-run. Reuters also claimed that in some areas the Palestinian police were doing little to stop the violence. I didn't save the Reuters story, but here's the AP: [May 14, 1998, 4:41 p.m.]

While most of the marchers -- 1 million by official Palestinian
estimates -- were peaceful, thousands of young men broke away and
headed toward Israeli army outposts. In clash after clash, they
hurled stones at Israeli soldiers who responded with tear gas,
rubber bullets and, sometimes, live rounds.
[...]

Brig. Gen. Yoav Galant, the Israeli commander in Gaza, accused
Arafat's government of deliberately organizing demonstrations so
large as to be uncontrollable. Galant also said Palestinian police
and civilians fired wildly in at least one confrontation, and may
have been responsible for some casualties.

Israeli officials recovered about 200 casings of the type of
bullets used by Palestinian police, he said. Israeli troops also
displayed two armored vehicles that had been shot.

The Times, however, paints the picture like it was a mad orgiastic Klan-like attack by the Israeli army against innocents. See the picture on page A11 (Fri, May 15 1998) to see a pure example of how newspapers can gush falsehood under the guise of news. Disgusting and despicable.

KENNETH STARR

As of last looking, Kenneth Starr is chomping at the bit, trying to break the government stonewall over the Secret Service silence. Besides the obvious lesson that a Secret Service, by definition, is secret, there's the head of the service saying that forcing the agents to testify would lead to the death of a president.

OK, granted, it sounds like the chief is freaking out, but I'd far more trust his opinion on these matters than Starr who, by all accounts -- probably even the psychotic Rep. Dan Burton agrees -- has *got* to have his priorities straightened out!

Kenneth! (I'm sure he hates 'Ken') Dude! It's just not worth it! Somebody better tackle Starr and hose him down with some PERSPECTIVE. Maybe the secret service, they do that for a living ya know.

A NUCLEAR INDIA

This is bad. We do not need to have India, Pakistan, China, and North Korea in a shoving match. But my grasp of geopolitics doesn't merit a column on this topic. I do want to point out a twinge-ing moral inconsistency by, your friend and mine, the New York Times.

Their Thursday (5-15-98) editorial claimed that the CIA failed because they didn't know about the nuclear tests beforehand. Maybe it's me, but all this complaining can be answered by a simple question -- why didn't we just pay an Indian citizen in their Navy intelligence division to give us information? This hypothetical person, we'll call him Mahatma Pollard, could have been an American hero, right? Right?

Have a good Shabbas.